Author: David Christopher Lane Publisher: Garland Publication date: 1992
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I want to go back to the home base now.
THE IDEOLOGY OF ENLIGHTENMENT Radhasoami Theology and its Social Context
Theological perspectives and debates, which are delineated by such terms as orthodox and heterodox, not only focus philosophical differences but actually reflect more fundamental social circumstances and conflicts. Indeed, conflicts in theology often represent in an idealized fashion social relations between particular religious groups. For example, the 2nd century A.D. dispute between Gnostic sects and emerging Pauline Christianity was not simply an argument over mysticism versus revelation, but a genuine political fight over centralized control and unification. [*NOTE: See Elaine H. Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979) and Gerard Valle, A Study in Anti-Gnostic Polemics (Waterloo: Wilfrid University Press, 1981). *] Thus, the use of such terms as "orthodox" and "heterodox" by religious leaders and movements can be utilized by sociologists as indicative signposts underlying societal tensions that are often the main causes or catalysts behind theological debates.
The importance of this kind of approach is two-fold: 1) religious ideas are seen as important indicators or crystallizations of underlying social differences; and 2) theological or philosophical knowledge is viewed in a connective (and not an abstracted) way with culture. As such, this kind of methodology sheds light on the formation, process, and culmination of theological thinking. [*NOTE: I must confess, however, that the utility of such an approach did not occur to me until after I had studied religious disputes in a purely historical and philosophical way. I am much indebted to Professor Bennett Berger who patiently guided me towards understanding the significance of sociological method in studying guru succession and other religious matters. *]
Furthermore, it should be understood that philosophical positions are in many cases indices of social relationships. The very idea of an "orthodoxy" implies that there is another school of thought which is contrary to it (hence the pejoratively used term "heterodox" and its sister "heretical"). Although it is strikingly obvious, it is important to remind ourselves that "heresies" do not exist in a literary vacuum, but are directly related to established and oftentimes mainstream cultural institutions. [*NOTE: For more on the historical development of orthodoxies and heterodoxies in Indian religions see Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Dissent in India , edited by S.N. Eisenstadt, et al (Berlin, New York: Mouton, 1984). *] In this way, therefore, the study of theological disputes offers a fruitful context whereby the sociologist can better understand the social relationship between connected, if battling, religious movements. Robin Gill, in a ground-breaking work Theology And Social Structure , elaborates on the importance and utility of this kind of endeavor: Despite [the] obvious dangers of theological relativism, the task of carefully uncovering the social determinants of theology remains an important one. Far from being an attempt to reduce theology to a series of affirmations about society--the charge that is often levelled at Feuerbach--or to relativise it by exposing its obvious dependence upon transitory social contexts, this task of uncovering social determinants becomes an essential step in theological self-awareness. Just as it is widely acknowledged that theological statements carry numerous philosophical and historical connotations and presuppositions, so theologians might eventually assume that an awareness of social context and determinants is a prerequisite of an adequate theology. [*NOTE: Robin Gill, Theology And Social Structure (London: Mowbrays, 1977.), page xi. *]
In light of this, the following section, which focuses on the continuing controversy among the various branches of Radhasoami over what constitutes ultimate truth or enlightenment, will examine how theological disputes codify underlying social relationships and tensions. [*NOTE: In Theology and Social Structure , op. cit., Robin Gill suggests three levels of analysis for studying the social determinants of theology: 1) socio-cultural ; 2) socio-political ; and 3) socio-ecclesiastical . I have followed Gill's strategy throughout this study, developing the last category to fit more specifically to North India's particular religious scene. *]
Specifically, I will want to address this one major question: How do social circumstances, such as geographic location, property rights, status/caste, and succession transference, influence theological perspectives on enlightenment? To properly examine and answer this query, however, it is necessary to study Radhasoami theology in a developmental fashion since theology, like other intellectual disciplines progresses through a series of stages. Thus, to identify the social determinants of Radhasoami thought, attention must be paid to its historical development as well. For instance, what may begin as a dependent variable (such as Radhasoami's lack of strict rules or guidelines governing gaddi nasheen succession in its beginning stages) may in time develop into an independent variable (such as Sawan Singh's use of a registered will to document the appointment of his successor, Jagat Singh, at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh) which can significantly influence by itself the future strategies of guru legitimation. Hence, a fully comprehensive sociology of Radhasoami doctrines needs to take into account how theology is both a product and a producer in the social construction of philosophical thought. To carry out this task, though, the sociologist is forced by methodological considerations to study dependent and independent variables separately --despite the obvious fact that they are not mutually exclusive and are in constant interaction. [*NOTE: In an illuminating footnote in his book, The Survival of a Counterculture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), page 175, Bennett Berger explains the difficulty in using such terms as "independent" and "dependent" variables. Berger writes: "The very language of "dependent" and "independent" variables, like the language of "infrastructure" and "superstructure," imprisons one in a vocabulary that is misleading, one from which theorists have struggled to extricate themselves. . . ." *] As Robin Gill explains, "The main justification for focusing separately on the social determinants and the social significance of theology is that such focus presents the sociologist with an empirically manageable area of study."
I. SOAMI BAGH: Orthodox/Objective/Closed System Orthodoxy and its Social Roots
Although religious leaders and followers tend to dismiss social circumstances and relationships as having a major impact on the development of their beliefs, teachings, and practices, it appears obvious societal context plays a tremendous role in shaping theological viewpoints. The problematic issue, though, is how to measure the social influence. Given the wide array of contributing influences, I think it is impossible at this stage to accurately gauge the impact, but it is possible to identify certain general social factors which have helped mold philosophical outlooks.
What were the social circumstances which contributed to Soami Bagh's establishment of an orthodox and exclusive interpretation of Radhasoami teachings? To accurately answer that question, however, we must first realize that Soami Bagh's orthodoxy did not develop overnight. Rather, it developed in progressive stages, demarcated most graphically by each new guru succession crisis. Thus, we will want to identify the social determinants of Soami Bagh's theology by taking a close look at various phases in its history. By starting with Rai Salig Ram, the first guru in Radhasoami history to define a specific orthodox interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings, it will enable us to identify the various social factors which contributed to the solidification of an orthodoxy. Although, as I have previously stated, it is not possible at this time to know the exact reasons behind Rai Salig Ram's theology, we will at least have a general idea of which social factors may have played a significant role. After this, we can then turn to Rai Salig Ram's theology and see which ideas may have a social impact on the continuing development of Soami Bagh.
The Social Context of Rai Salig Ram's Theological Perspective
Even during the lifetime of Shiv Dayal Singh, the founder of Radhasoami, there were divergent interpretations over the nature of his teachings. Apparently Shiv Dayal Singh was well aware of the problem and advised his brother, Seth Partap Singh, [*NOTE: My spelling here of Partap with an "a" before the "r" instead of the more common spelling-- Pratap --is based upon Partap Singh's signature in English. Since he spelled his name as "Partap" and not "Pratap", I have followed his usage. See S.D. Maheshwari's Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith (Soami Bagh: S.D. Maheswhari, 1979), page 25, for a reproduction of "Partap" Singh's signature. *] just prior to his death not to interfere with their respective development. (14) Addressing Lala Pratap [Partap] Singh, Soamiji observed, "The Faith I had given out, was that of Sat Nam and Anami. Radhasoami Faith has been introduced by Salig Ram (Huzur Maharaj). You should let it also continue. Satsang must go on. Satsang shall spread far and wide in future. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami (Prose), translation by S.D. Maheshwari, Second Edition (Agra: Soami Bagh, 1958). *]
By Shiv Dayal Singh's own admission, Rai Salig Ram introduced Radhasoami Mat in contradistinction with his own mat, Sat Nam and Anami Nam. What is not at all clear, though, is why? Why, for instance, did Rai Salig Ram introduce Radhasoami Mat during the lifetime of his teacher? Moreover, what were the social determinants at the time which prompted Salig Ram to do so?
Although our inquiry lacks several key historical documents (such as Rai Salig Ram's notebooks which have yet to be released by his great grandson, Agam Prasad Mathur), there are enough original writings [*NOTE: During a brief visit to Peepal Mandi, Agra, in March of 1987, I was informed by Agam Prasad Mathur personally that he will eventually make photo-copies of Rai Salig Ram's notebooks. This would be a major breakthrough for Radhasoami studies, especially given the lack of primary source materials during the time of Shiv Dayal Singh. *] of both Shiv Dayal Singh and Rai Salig Ram to give us a clear idea about their respective theologies.
Rai Salig Ram's Unique Relationship with Shiv Dayal Singh
By all accounts (including those of rival successors) Rai Salig Ram was the chief and most well known disciple of Shiv Dayal Singh. Seth Partap Singh in his biography of Soamiji Maharaji referred to Salig Ram as "the chief and most beloved disciple of Radhasoami Saheb." [*NOTE: Biography of Soamiji Maharaj (Soami Bagh, Agra: Radhasoami Satsang, Soami Bagh, 1978), page 68. *] This unique, personal relationship between Salig Ram and his guru should not be underestimated. If anything, it presents us with a social context in which to understand why Salig Ram would eventually claim that Shiv Dayal Singh was the Supreme Incarnation. Salig Ram would often serve his guru up to fifteen hours a day, performing personal tasks ranging from drawing water from a well one mile away to cutting twigs from trees to be used as a toothbrush. Salig Ram's devotion was unique, as evidenced by Seth Partap Singh's high praise of his services: Huzur Maharaj [Rai Salig Ram] would never miss attendance on Soamiji Maharaj. Even while attending on Soamiji Maharaj for about fifteen hours every day, he was extremely eager for Darshan. As soon as he would come in His presence, he would feel at ease and imbibe the nectar of His discourses. . . He was, in fact, singular in his devotion to Soamiji Maharaj. [*NOTE: Ibid., page 76. *]
There can be no question that Salig Ram's intensely close physical proximity to his guru day in and day out contributed to his devotional ideas about guru-bhakti in general. We know from historical records that Rai Salig Ram and other close devotees partook of Shiv Dayal Singh's charanamrit (water which has been personally sanctified by the immersion of the guru's physical feet) and prashad (blessed food which was apparently sanctified by Shiv Dayal Singh's own saliva). These kinds of practices, however, are not unique to Radhasoami. [*NOTE: For more on these practices, see Lawrence A. Babb's Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). *] What is not typical, though, is Salig Ram's extreme devotion to the bodily form of his guru. An excerpt from one of Rai Salig Ram's letters to his guru, reveals the nature of his devotion: It is also prayed that brother Pratap [Partap] Singh or brother Gauri Shankar be directed to collect and send a small packet of dust, which may have been besmeared on Huzur's Feet. Huzur's foot-print on the paper which has been sent to me had very little dust. So this slave of Yours, prays for the favour of being supplied with the special dust from off Your sacred Feet. Charanamrit and Prashad may also graciously be sent to this slave soon. [*NOTE: Last Discourse of Soamiji Maharaj And Letters of Soamiji Maharaj & Huzur Maharaj , Translated by S.D. Maheshwari (Soami Bagh, Agra: Radhasoami Satsang, Soami Bagh, 1960), pages 13-14. *]
Although it is not possible to draw a cause and effect connection between Salig Ram's unique personal relationship with Shiv Dayal Singh and his subsequent theological views, they are nevertheless consistent with one another. At the very least, this supports why Salig Ram--and not other successors who were not as physically close to the guru--would have adopted a univocal interpretation of his master's teachings. In other words, Salig Ram's singular devotion is reflected in his singular (and exclusive) interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings.
Another factor at play here is a psychological one: transference inflation. By elevating his guru to the greatest incarnation of all time, Salig Ram, in turn, elevates his own status, since he was by all accounts one of the closest, if not the closest, disciple of Shiv Dayal Singh. Although such a projection may indeed be unconscious, it does nevertheless have a very visible social effect: the successor of the greatest incarnation of all time naturally engenders an almost unparalleled amount of respect and adulation, thus solidifying an emerging guru's ministry. Salig Ram's univocal interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh is also a categorical pronouncement about his own ministry. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that Salig Ram's actions after the death of his guru caused some envy and dissension among his fellow satsangis. Partap Singh (Shiv Dayal Singh's brother), in particular, was incensed by Salig Ram's airs of grandeur. He was especially outraged by the extreme devotion displayed toward Salig Ram during and after his satsangs in Peepal Mandi.
Thus Salig Ram's exclusive interpretation of his guru's message must also be seen as personal testimony about his own functional status as a viable successor. In other words, Salig Ram is not only revealing something about his guru when he speaks of an unqualified incarnationalism, he is also speaking categorically about his own perceived role in the history of spirituality.
The Socio-Religious Influences of the British Raj, Vaishnavism, and Biblical Christianity
Since Salig Ram had a long and fruitful career in the office of Postmaster General in the North Western Provinces (he was the first Indian to be appointed to the position), he had close contact with the British and their ways of administering government. Even though the British did not always respect the various manifestations of Indian religion, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, their rule was generally much more tolerant of differing religious practices than were India's previous rulers, the Muslim Mughals. In such a climate, modern Hindu revivalist movements such as Swami Dayananda's Arya Samaj and Blavatsky's pro-Indian thought, Theosophy, flourished. The importance of this kind of religious freedom should not be overlooked. As Mathur explains: It cannot be denied that during the six hundred years of Islamic suppression, Hinduism as the religion of a vanquished people suffered significant setbacks. It was during British rule that Hinduism could stand on a plane of equality with Islam. With the state policy of non-interference in socio-religious matters, an air of freedom was experienced by religious leaders. . . [*NOTE: Ibid., page 12. *]
Even though Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings were not oriented towards bettering the world, overthrowing British rule, or re-establishing the supremacy of Hinduism, there was undoubtedly an element of absolutism which evoked a sense of pride in its members. For even though the British may have been the temporal rulers of India and its people, they had no jurisdiction whatsoever in the higher spheres of spiritual existence. Hence, a devout Hindu or Sikh could still retain a sense of self-pride by realizing his religious views were beyond the scope of British Raj politics. Despite their transmundane aspirations, modern Indian religious movements served a vital social function in allowing their practitioners to retain a sense of community and historical continuity even in the midst of foreign rule.
Thus, Salig Ram is one of a series of Indian revivalists who sought to re-establish the supremacy of religion in everyday life. The unique twist in Salig Ram's venture, though, was that he advocated Radhasoami as the supreme religion of all time. In doing so, he criticized all other forms of worship. As such, Salig Ram was simply extending Shiv Dayal Singh's own exclusive views on the nature of spiritual evolution into a historically unique occasion. Bachan 3 of Sar Bachan Chhand-Band reveals in a nutshell Salig Ram's spiritual appraisal of other religions and their leaders: Neither Ram nor Krishna knew Thee, O my beloved Radhasoami! Neither Sita nor Rukmin and Pat-rani heard about my beloved Radhasoami. Christ, Moses, Mary and Mani failed to find out my beloved Radhasoami. . . What could Hindus and Muslims know about my beloved Radhasoami? [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami (Poetry), op. cit., page 58. *]
Salig Ram's orthodoxy, especially his elevation of Shiv Dayal Singh as the Supreme Incarnation of God, has some interesting parallels with Christianity, where the central emphasis--especially in fundamentalist sects--is on the historical uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We know that Salig Ram was familiar with Christian doctrine, owning a number of books on the subject, including a complete collection of Emanuel Swedenborg's mystical texts. Couple this with Salig Ram's Vaishnava background (his family were staunch devotees of Krishna--one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu) and it appears certainly obvious, but not yet scientifically ascertainable, that Salig Ram's incarnational views owe much to both orthodox Hinduism and Christianity. The former because they were the context of his early youth; the latter because they represented the "status" religion of the ruling class. [*NOTE: For more on Rai Salig Ram's life and teachings, see S.D. Maheshwari's Biography of Huzur Maharaj (Soami Bagh: S.D. Maheshwari, 1971). *]
Salig Ram was also highly affected by the 1857 Indian mutiny. As Agam Prasad Mathur remarks, "The horrors and aftermath of the freedom movement in 1857 left a sad mark on his impressionable mind, and increased his desire for meeting a true guide." [*NOTE: Agam Prasad Mathur, Radhasoami Faith: A Historical Study (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1974), page 59, quoting Max Muller. *] To what extent such a tragedy influenced his religious views remains uncertain, except that it increased Salig Ram's longing for spiritual fulfillment. The Religious and Social Impact of Salig Ram's Ministry
Although it is nearly impossible to precisely gauge the socio-historical influences on Salig Ram's extreme philosophical positions, we do know that his legacy left a huge imprint on the growth of Radhasoami in Agra and elsewhere, especially through his two main followers, Brahm Shankar Misra and Madhav Prasad Sinha. Salig Ram was responsible for several key developments in Radhasoami theology and organization, including: 1) publishing Shiv Dayal Singh's writings in 1886 for the first time; 2) drawing a significant increase of followers to Radhasoami; 3) articulating in a clear and systematic fashion various abstruse points in Radhasoami theology; 4) spreading the teachings of Radhasoami outside of Agra; and 5) establishing a new ministerial base at Peepal Mandi, outside of Soami Bagh.
But Salig Ram's greatest legacy occurred when he died. Instead of clearly appointing one successor to carry on the work, Salig Ram died without nominating anyone as his heir apparent. The result was an "interregnum" where no one for a couple of years emerged as a guru. This singular event, perhaps more than any other thing in Salig Ram's career, altered the course of future Radhasoami history. Luckily for scholars, unlike the death of Shiv Dayal Singh, there are a number of important written documents which reveal the uncertainty and tension that accompanied Rai Salig Ram's death. A particularly insightful commentary comes from Brahm Shankar Misra, Salig Ram's eventual majority successor, who wrote a number of letters to satsangis during this time period. Below are some pertinent excerpts: The sudden departure of Huzur Maharaj [Rai Salig Ram] has no doubt been a great shock to all of us and taken away the apparent prop we were resting on. But He has not totally severed His connection with us. On the other hand, He is now watching our spiritual welfare more keenly than before and giving us also greater help inwardly. The question of allegiance to another Sadh or Sant does not, therefore, arise for the present. . . [*NOTE: A Solace To Satsangis (Soamibagh, Agra: Radhasoami Satsang, 1952), page 1. This letter was dated 18th December, 1898, twelve days after Salig Ram died. *] Nothing definite can be said yet about Huzur Maharaj's successor. Eventually, no doubt the necessity of a Sant Satguru is indispensable for the continuance of Radhasoami Faith, but some spiritual benefit is intended even until His appearance, the object being that all followers of Radhasoami faith should exert themselves internally for spiritual advancement. As long as another Satguru does not appear, there is no question of altering the contemplation of the last Satguru's image Who was the latest Incarnation of the Supreme Being. [*NOTE: Ibid., page 4 and 5. Letter was written on 12th May, 1889. *]
What is clear from Misra's letters is that no successor to Salig Ram emerged for at least two years. Even Misra himself, who would later assume the role, appears not to be aware of his own spiritual status during this period. Hence, the importance of the interregnum should not be overlooked. In many ways, it serves as a period in which Salig Ram's theology gets solidified and gaddi nasheen succession takes on a new political twist.
The Central Administrative Council When Orthodoxy Gets Entrenched
With a proliferation of gurus and satsangs (after Shiv Dayal Singh's death there were at least six different disciples working as gurus) there arises an overriding impetus--both for individuals and organizations--to establish some kind of outward criterion for legitimation. In the case of Shiv Dayal Singh, there was no unanimity on who was his male successor. Even though Radha Ji was accepted as his chief female heir (and general guardian of the entire sangat), it appears that Sanmukh Das, Rai Salig Ram, [*NOTE: There has been some controversy concerning Radhaji's role as a guru. It is clear, however, that she did initiate women into the path, as evidenced by Sudarshan Singh's court testimony with a Dayal Bagh lawyer, wherein he stated, "Radhaji had granted Huzur Maharaj [Rai Salig Ram] permission to initiate others. . . . Radhaji Maharaj used to initiate ladies through me after making them sit before Her. See Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith , op. cit., page 32. *] Seth Partap Singh, Jaimal Singh, Gharib Das, and others perhaps, commenced their own satsangs and gathered their own particular followings. The consequences of this split in the sangat were tremendous and until this day have been a major source for the continued proliferation of new breakaway groups.
In Agra, after the death of Shiv Dayal Singh, there were four satsangs that were held: 1) the sadhu satsang, headed by Sanmukh Das; 2) the women's satsang, headed by Radhaji; 3) Seth Partap Singh's satsang at Soami Bagh; and 4) Rai Salig Ram's satsang in Peepal Mandi. Apparently, there was some disharmony among three of these satsangs almost from the outset. For example, Seth Partap Singh, Shiv Dayal Singh's younger brother, did not always approve of Rai Salig Ram's satsang in Peepal Mandi, because he had introduced some changes which were not to his liking. Despite whatever theological differences Salig Ram and Partap Singh had, it appears that one of the major points of their dispute was over who gave satsang and where . The Partap/Salig Ram dispute illustrates graphically that the atmosphere in Agra after Shiv Dayal Singh's death was anything but serene. Apparently when Salig Ram moved back to Agra in the mid-1880's (he had been posted outside of the city for some time after the death of his guru), his satsang caused a rift of jealousy amongst devotees who had previously been associated with Radha Ji, Shiv Dayal Singh's wife and chief heir. As Salig Ram himself noted on July 16, 1887, to Brahm Shankar Misra, his eventual successor, "Troubles constantly arise from my holding Satsang and I have a mind to modify present procedure so as to avoid giving cause to jealousy on the part of others as well as the great want of respect hitherto shown towards our Supreme Mother Radhaji Sahib by the members of the congregation. . ." [*NOTE: Holy Epistles And Other Sacred Writings , Part 2, translated by S.D. Maheswhari (Soami Bagh: S.D. Maheshwari, 1964), page 103. *] It appears that the animosity reached a peak in 1889, when Salig Ram began solidifying his constituencies and drawing seekers and satsangis away from Partap Singh's satsangs. The following correspondence between Salig Ram and Madhav Prasad Sinha at that time reveals the intensity of the dispute. For the last week or ten days, Lala Pratap [Partap] Singh Saheb is very much displeased with this Satsang. Although it so happens once in a month or two, this time he is over-excited. Yesterday, in the Satsang and the general congregation at his house, he vehemently used very intemperate language and harsh words about this Satsang, Satsangis, Satsangins, and Sadhus. As far as possible, I do not like to give the least cause of annoyance and displeasure to the members of the holy family. For the last few days Lala Pratap Singh has been holding his separate Satsang. In order that his Satsang may flourish, I wish to stop, for some time, the Satsang held at my place. This would remove the cause of his displeasure and annoyance. Besides, there are quarrels and differences among Satsangis and Satsangins, due to which I feel very much vexed and annoyed. It, therefore, seems advisable to stop the Satsang for the time being. Sadhus would attend Satsang in Soami Bagh. Householders would join the Satsang held at Radhaji Maharaj's. And Sadhus, if they so wish, may come to the town and join the Satsang arranged by Chachaji Saheb and held under the benign presidency of Radha Ji Maharaj. [*NOTE: Ibid., page 209. *]
In a later letter, this time to Prem Anand, Salig Ram elaborates on the controversy: I have never trusted his [Partap Singh] external respectful conduct for I always noticed a strong spirit of jealousy and venomous rancour harboured in his breast. But my endeavour has been to give way and take no notice of his words and on the other hand for the sake of my beloved Supreme Father to give this queer gentleman no cause for offence or in any way lower his dignity amongst the members of the Satsang. . . . [*NOTE: Ibid., page 213. *]
Thus by the time of Salig Ram's death there were a number of factions in Radhasoami, and the disputes, mostly concerning succession and property rights, were increasing. To remedy this factionalization, Brahm Shankar Misra and other prominent Peepal Mandi/Soami Bagh satsangis created a Central Administrative Council to unify the divergent Radhasoami groups under one collective umbrella. Even though the result was disastrous, the Central Administrative Council was a coup of sorts for Brahm Shankar Misra and orthodox Radhasoami. For, by its very inception, Misra was able to legally establish a system whereby an elite inner circle could determine the future of Radhasoami doctrines, initiations, membership, and in turn control the satsang properties associated with Shiv Dayal Singh and Rai Salig Ram. S.D. Maheshwari explains the guiding principle of the C.A.C.: It had been observed that after the departure of Sant Sat Guru, certain persons had seceded from the main Satsang and formed into separate groups. They asserted their right of interest in the above properties. So it was necessary to take measures to protect these properties. And the Council was established (a) to consolidate the properties presented or acquired during the time of Soamiji Maharaj and Huzur Maharaj, which were in possession of the members of the families of Sant Sat Gurus, (b) to settle, once for all, the question that the property belongs to the Sant Sat Guru as such and to no one else, (c) to safe-guard against the properties passing into the family of a Sant Sat Guru or another person, (d) to help the Sant Sat Guru in the management of the properties, (e) to administer the properties during interregnum and (f) to prevent the formation of cliques as far as possible. [*NOTE: S.D. Maheshwari, Radhasoami Faith: History & Tenets (Soami Bagh: S.D. Maheshwari, 1954), pages 95-96. *]
Geographical Location: Where The Sacred and the Profane Intersect
The importance of geographic location and property in establishing and maintaining a religious orthodoxy should not be underestimated. Religious orthodoxies, in general, are much more likely to develop in the geographical location where the charismatic founder established his mission. Not only does the land lend historical significance to the fledgling movement, but it provides visible proof of where the sacred touches the profane. As such, the founder's spiritual gaddi (lit., "seat of the guru") represents a primordial hierophany, a divine axis mundi where the numinous coincides with the mundane. Such a sacred spot becomes an historical repository of the initial divine manifestation in the world. A comparative look at the world's great religions attests to this as a trans-cultural phenomenon: witness the Jewish-Christian Jerusalem; the Sikh's Amritsar; the Hindu's Benares; and the Muslim's Mecca. Moreover, these holy places by their very nature are oriented towards a nostalgic remembrance of the religion's beginnings. Although they may inspire pilgrims to transform their lives in the future, they do so by presenting an ideal from the past. Hence, it is natural and consistent with the spirit of religious devotion that the place where the spiritual leader made significant advances, commandments, or miracles, should become the focal point of pilgrimage and worship.
The Central Administrative Council working out of Soami Bagh, therefore, by its entitled position was more predisposed toward orthodoxy than any other satsang group connected with Shiv Dayal Singh, since it retained what other branches did not: historical legitimacy and sacred memory via geographic location, personal artifacts and relics, etc. Thus, one of C.A.C.'s/Soami Bagh's chief sources for legitimacy, in the face of rival claims, was its geographic location. Whatever else may be said against the presiding gurus at Soami Bagh, nobody could dispute its singular claim for being the place where Radhasoami started. [*NOTE: I vividly remember when Professor Mark Juergensmeyer and I visited with Sant Das Maheshwari in his home at Soami Bagh, where we discussed the origins of Radhasoami. At one point, Maheshwari emphatically pointed to the sacred relics in his room as proof that Soami Bagh was the only true lineage connected to Shiv Dayal Singh. As Maheshwari himself so emphatically put it, "Who else [but Soami Bagh] has Soamiji's fingernail clippings and eyebrow hair?" Maheshwari's tone was both serious and proud. *]
Hence, despite whatever controversies it engendered, the Central Administrative Council was key in cementing an orthodox viewpoint in Radhasoami. By retaining the vital satsang properties of the first two gurus and restricting voting to a selected elite, the C.A.C. was able to establish its sacred base as well as wield political control over its membership. Even though the C.A.C. came under heavy attack just five years after its inception and suffered a drastic loss of membership due to the rebellion of Kamta Prasad Sinha and other disaffected satsangis, [*NOTE: For a popular account of this split, see Marvin Henry Harper's Gurus, Swamis, and Avataras (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972), pages 96 to 119. *] it clearly established itself as the orthodox branch of Radhasoami.
But much of this "orthodoxy" has to do with a reaction to growing schisms within the movement and the need for centralizing the control of satsang properties. The very idea of an orthodoxy arises only when there is a contest over centralized control. And usually such contests hover around material interests like property rights, membership privileges and doctrinal interpretations. With the increase of properties and members and monies, it is little wonder that internal disputes would prompt a push for some kind of centralized order. Who determines that order, however, has more to do with politics than mysticism. And it is precisely the politics of property and economic self interest that determines to a large measure how theology gets transformed to fit the needs of a given time and circumstance. For this reason, the Central Administrative Council must be seen for what it is: a political body interested in preserving economic interests. Why else would such a "spiritual" institution pursue a decades long legal battle with Dayal Bagh over worship rights at Soami Bagh and elsewhere? To be sure, the pretext is one of doctrinal purity, but underlying such a pretext is an economic reality, wherein the C.A.C. stands to lose exclusive rights to its property holdings, as well as to its incoming donations from outlying sister satsangs. Hence, the C.A.C.'s development of a doctrinal orthodoxy is intimately related to its own economic self interest in retaining control over sacred properties and the worship rights to those holy places.
In later years, after the death of Madhav Prasad Sinha, the last guru at Soami Bagh, it became imperative for the Central Administrative Council to assume a more active role in controlling satsang related activities, such as: building the holy samadh; processing new applicants for initiation; collecting bhent (donations); conducting regular satsangs; printing Radhasoami literature; and maintaining satsang properties. Indeed, with the demise of Madhav Prasad and his personal charisma, Soami Bagh's orthodoxy became entrenched. With the apparently interminable interregnum started by Madhav Prasad Sinha's death, the routinization of Radhasoami doctrines finally reached its pinnacle. No longer subject to the unpredicatable ideas of a new guru and/or the controversies that would inevitably follow his/her death, the Central Administrative Council, without a recognized living Master at its helm, emerged as the sole governing force at Soami Bagh--a development which will undoubtedly insure that a doctrinal orthodoxy reign supreme for many more years to come. II. MANAVTA MANDIR: Heterodox/Subjective/Counter System Social Position and the Evolution of Heterodoxy
The antithesis of Soami Bagh's interpretation of ultimate truth and enlightenment is the viewpoint held by Manavta Mandir, founded by the late Baba Faqir Chand (1886-1981). Although arising from the same genealogical roots (Faqir Chand's guru, Shiv Brat Lal, was an initiate of Rai Salig Ram), Manavta Mandir does not hold to any exclusive dogmas or doctrines. Rather, due to its founder's penetrating insights and frank autobiographical admissions, this satsang sees every religious expression, from Radhasoami to Advaita Vedanta, as being subjective and partial manifestations of the total reality. In fact, truth is not objective as a cognitive capability, but is wholly transcendent, beyond the capacity of any individual to attain to it or understand it. What man knows is only a small part of the larger universe, like a germ in the human body, circumvented by its very existence to a remote region of inquiry. [*NOTE: In a personal interview, later published in a booklet edited by B. R. Kamal entitled The Master Speaks To The Foreigners (Hoshiarpur: Faqir Charitable Library Trust, 1978), Faqir Chand spoke the following words to me: "No one has ever been able to know it completely. No one has known it. A small germ in a body cannot know the whole body. Similarly (a) human being is like a small germ in a vast Creation. How can he claim to have known the entire creation?" *] As Faqir Chand once wrote: Who can say authentically that God is Unnamed (Anami) or Unseen (Alakh)? Man is in search of Truth. When his attention (surat) reaches or merges in its own self, he feels himself to be unnamed (anami). He loses his "self" into a state of limitlessness and there ends his struggle of research. Who can know what man is? So, Man, none has known anything about God. All these propounders of different religious philosophies have no right to say that they have become something. If anyone makes this claim, he is still ignorant of the Truth. See the end of those saints who made claims of their so called greatness and immortality. Where did the immortality of Paltu Sahib go when he was thrown in the boiling oil pan? My Guru Data Dayal could not do anything against His (God's) will and save his ashram, Radhaswami Dham. Swami Param Hans Dev whose prashad had a power for curing incurable diseases, himself died of cancer. . . [*NOTE: The Unknowing Sage: The Life and Work of Baba Faqir Chand, edited by David C. Lane (1987), page 48. *]
Interestingly, Faqir Chand's radicalization of absolute Truth came about only after he had embraced the accepted doctrines of Radhasoami, as outlined by Shiv Dayal Singh in his book, Sar Bachan (both the prose and poetry volumes). Faqir Chand, like many satsangis in the faith, believed he had been led to the highest path available to mankind. However, since there were many different schools of Radhasoami--each with their own presiding master--Faqir quickly learned that he was not alone in his pride of spiritual superiority.
Yet, unlike many of his counterparts, Faqir underwent a remarkable transformation in his religious views near the end of World War One. In a battle in Iraq in 1919, Faqir Chand had two extraordinary experiences which convinced him that no path or guru was necessarily closer to God. First, he beheld a vision of his master, Shiv Brat Lal, while he was in grave danger, which on further inspection occurred without any knowledge on behalf of his guru. And, second, close associates of Faqir Chand claimed that he was appearing to them during their meditation sittings, but all the while Faqir himself when questioned about such appearances stated that he had absolutely no knowledge of the manifestations. These unusual events confirmed to Faqir that all inner visions, miracles, etc., were products of the devotee's own faith and concentration and had nothing to do, per se, with any particular religious master or system. [*NOTE: See my article "The Hierarchical Structure of Religious Visions," in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (Volume 15, Number 1), for more on Faqir Chand's views on this controversial subject. *] Faqir Chand comments on this critical insight: Dayal's mother, whom you see within and whom you love within is your own creation, your own child. You, yourself, create the image of Shiv Brat Lal in your center of Trikuti, while other devotees create ideals such as Krishna, Rama, or other Gods at the same center and enjoy their vision. Man is basically ignorant about the reality. . . When you create my image for the fulfillment of your worldly desires and get many works done from my form, I remain unaware about such happenings. I daily receive a heavy mail about such miraculous incidents from satsangis. Such cases have convinced me that the manifestation of the Guru's form within me was not from without. It was the creation of my own mind. I do not go anywhere, but my form does manifest at many places at the same time. It proves that it is one's own creation, one's own faith, belief and devotion. An individual enjoys visions within according to his intentions and convictions. [*NOTE: The Unknowing Sage: The Life and Work of Baba Faqir Chand , op. cit., page 29. *]
True spiritual enlightenment, according to Faqir Chand, is not the apprehension of inner visions, the listening to celestial sounds, or out-of-body experiences, but is rather the realization that every conception of the Divine is ultimately unreal. Truth or Reality is, in essence, absolutely unknowable. Liberation is the tacit awareness of that mysterious fact on every level of life. Thus, Faqir Chand and his Be-Man philosophy represent a devastating subjectivity , which no matter how profound can never be completely objectivized--Divine Ignorance from beginning to end. [*NOTE: Coincidentally, Faqir Chand's understanding of ignorance is quite similar to Da Love Ananda's (alias Franklin Jones; Bubba Free John; Da Free John) concept of "Divine Ignorance" or "Eternal Mystery," as outlined in his book, The Paradox of Instruction (Clear Lake: Dawn Horse Press, 1977). *]
Obviously, this radical purview did not sit well with other Radhasoami groups (especially the Agra sects), since it relativizes even the most exceptional of religious revelations. Faqir Chand's heterodox views have not won him a wide following, though they have clearly distinguished his teachings as the chief "counter system" to mainstream, orthodox Radhasoami theology. [*NOTE: Specifically, Soami Bagh's closed and incarnational system in Agra, which holds that Shiv Dayal Singh and his designated successors were full embodiments of the Supreme Being, Radhasoami Anami Purush. *] As Faqir Chand once observed: This is a hard fact: the plain truth does not help in establishing centers; it does not increase the number of followers. But how is anyone to understand it (Truth)? Only after this realization: that he is a bubble of consciousness. A bubble of consciousness would not claim himself to be a yogi, sadhu, or gyani. Had I not realized this Truth, I might have made claims of my greatness and got myself worshipped from you and exploited you. [*NOTE: "The Reluctant Guru: The Life and Teachings of Baba Faqir Chand," by David Christopher Lane, Laughing Man Magazine (Volume 3, Number 1), page 76. *]
Today, Manavta Mandir, under the direction of Faqir Chand's chief spiritual successor, Dr. I.C. Sharma, preaches an unqualified "Be-Manism," an ecumenical humanism which stresses the need for human interaction and upliftment. Dialogue with a variety of different religious traditions is invited and welcomed. Unlike Soami Bagh, which shuns any type of publicity or formal communication with "splinter" satsang groups, Manavta Mandir seeks out platforms with other spiritual gurus and masters. In fact, the Be-Man temple in Hoshiarpur contains not only pictures of the late Baba Faqir Chand, Shiv Brat Lal, and Rai Salig Ram (which is expected in such an institution), but also houses photographs of almost every other Radhasoami leader from various branches. Where Soami Bagh's orthodox/objective/closed system leans towards exclusivity, Faqir Chand's heterodox/subjective/counter system tends toward inclusivity. [*NOTE: For an account of my personal impressions of Manavta Mandir's tolerance of other religions, see my article "The Great Sage of Hoshiarpur" in the Movement Newspaper (November 1982). Manavta Mandir was quite inclusive and tolerant of opposing perspectives during the reign of its founder Faqir Chand. As Faqir Chand himself has stated on several occasions, "I do not know whether my realizations are right or wrong. I do not make any claim that my realization is final." Faqir Chand's successor, Dr. I.C. Sharma, though retaining much of his guru's ecumenical spirit, has not been as tolerant as Faqir Chand of disciples who have started their own satsangs in Faqir's name. In fact, Sharma has met with some sharp resistance from old-time Faqir devotees who feel that he has put too much of his personality into Manavta Mandir politics. *]
Shiv Brat Lal and the Roots of Heresy
Faqir Chand's heterodoxical viewpoint was not simply the product of deep mystical insight (though its value should not be underestimated), but rather was the outcome of a complex series of personal and social events. Faqir Chand's guru, Shiv Brat Lal, for example, was never accepted by the majority of satsangis in or outside of Agra as the true successor of Rai Salig Ram. Indeed, by his own admission, Shiv Brat Lal had only visited his guru three times, and then never for more than a week. Shiv Brat Lal's personal contact with Rai Salig Ram was minimal when compared with other fledgling successors. Thus, Shiv Brat Lal did not have any established formal ties with Rai Salig Ram's sangat, much less with his ashram or property. It is not surprising, therefore, that Shiv Brat Lal was never considered a serious gaddi nasheen candidate. In fact, Shiv Brat Lal did not start his own satsang in earnest until around 1904/1905--some six years after the death of his guru.
When Faqir Chand first met his master in 1905, Shiv Brat Lal's sangat was extremely small and was not regarded as a major Radhasoami branch. Only later, with Shiv Brat Lal's numerous publications on Sant mat, did Shiv Brat Lal's Radhasoami group emerge in Gopiganj as a major force in Sant mat circles.
Shiv Brat Lal's philosophy was marked at each turn with a liberality of expression which contrasted drastically with Salig Ram's orthodoxy. This is most evident perhaps in Shiv Brat Lal's popular, Light On Ananda Yoga , which postulates a clearly delineated--but not an exclusive--path to God. Although Shiv Brat Lal did establish a Radhasoami center, named Radhasoami Dham , and preached the cardinal principles of surat shabd yoga, he did not invoke the unbending orthodoxy of his predecessor, Rai Salig Ram, who claimed that there was only one true religion in the world now existing--namely Radhasoami Satsang in Agra. On the contrary, Shiv Brat Lal expressed a keen desire to connect the teachings of the saints with the mystical essence of other world religions. Shiv Brat Lal was widely educated and published in a number of literary magazines. It is roughly estimated that he published over 3,000 separate articles, pamphlets, and books in his lifetime. Shiv Brat Lal was also an editor for a number of magazines, including the Arya Gazette (an Arya Samaj publication) and Sadhu . In each of these publications, Shiv Brat Lal stressed the need for toleration and respect of differing religious leaders and ideas. Shiv Brat Lal was also on quite friendly terms with other spiritual leaders from other paths, particularly Sawan Singh of Beas, for whom he had very high regard. [*NOTE: For more on the life of Shiv Brat Lal, see Dayal Yoga by Dayal Thakur Nandu Singh (Secunderabad: P. Anand Rao, n.d.). *]
A Humanistic Interpretation of Radhasoami teachings
The development of an extreme heterodox position in Radhasoami theology did not commence, however, with Shiv Brat Lal. Rather, it was Shiv Brat Lal's chief successor, Faqir Chand, who developed what is now considered the most radical interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings: Manavism or "Be-Manism." Fortunately, the socio-historical events leading up to this development are clearly outlined by Faqir Chand in his frank autobiography, The Unknowing Sage . Faqir Chand, due to his strict Brahmin upbringing, did not appreciate the dogmatic and unsparing criticism of his religion that was made by the founder of Radhasoami, Shiv Dayal Singh, in his book Sar Bachan . Faqir Chand recollects: I reached the ashram of Hazur Data Dayal Ji [Maharishi Shiv Brat Lal] and prostrated my humble self at His Holy Feet. He gave me an exceptionally affectionate welcome and initiated me into Radhaswami Mat. His Holiness gave me a book and asked me to go through it. The work was Sar Bachan written by Swamiji Maharaj [Shiv Dayal Singh], the founder of Radhaswami. I went through some pages of the book in the very presence of Hazur Data Dayal Ji. But I could not pursue it any further, though, because Swamiji Maharaj had most vehemently criticized almost every religion, including Vedanta, Sufism, Islam, Jainism, and Buddhism. He declared them all to be Kal and Maya. It was too much for me. I felt hurt and tears rolled down my eyes. His Holiness noticed my reaction and inquired for the reason. I broke out, "Hazur, God is One. I have failed to understand the justification for condemning all other religions as incomplete. This is a direct attack on the religion of my ancestors." Hazur very lovingly advised me, "Keep aside this book and never read it until I ask you to read [it]."
Thus, Faqir's first contact with Radhasoami doctrines was not a pleasant experience. He did not appreciate Shiv Dayal Singh's criticism of other religions and their leaders, nor his exclusive claims on the efficacy of surat shabd yoga. Faqir's distaste for dogmatic Radhasoami doctrines was further exacerbated when he learned that other Radhasoami devotees (particularly those who paid allegiance to Kamta Prasad Sinha) did not accept Faqir's guru, Shiv Brat Lal, as genuine. An incident from Faqir's early life exemplifies the social tensions that existed between various Radhasoami factions at that time (and, I should add, still persist): On my way back from Lahore, I used to stay at Malkway Railway Station. There a book stall agent used to give discourses on Radhaswami Mat. Once the agent refused to share his huqqa (an Indian smoking pipe used for tobacco) with me. "We are both Brahmin by caste, why have you refused to share your huqqa with me?" He surprised me by responding, "Babu Kamta Prasad Sinha (alias Sarkar Sahib) is the only true incarnation of Radhaswami Dayal." [Babu Kamta Prasad Sinha was at that time head of the Radhaswami Satsang at Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh.] He meant thereby that I had not been initiated by a true guru and thus was not a true satsangi. I very politely said to him, "Dear brother, God is one. He belongs to all and all belong to Him. He may manifest to his devotees in different forms at different places and different times. But if you do not agree with me, then let me write a letter. You mail this letter to your guru. His reply in any form shall be accepted as final and I shall abide by it." There and then I wrote the letter, shedding tears of love and devotion for the Supreme Lord and handed it over to the gentleman to post it to his guru. After fifteen days I was told that Babu Kamta Prasad Sinha had breathed his last, and should wait for a reply until his successor was chosen. From this incident I concluded that followers of Radhaswami Mat [Ghazipur] were not impartial and true seekers of the ultimate reality. Their approach towards the all-embracing Truth was narrow and very sectarian. Hence, I gave up their company and avoided all blind followers thereafter. Even if anybody wished me "Radhaswami," I responded with "Ram Ram."
It is almost impossible not to take the preceding incident as a turning point in the development of Faqir's philosophical outlook. First, Faqir receives a significant social insult when his friend refuses to share the huqqa with him, even though they are both of the Brahmin caste. Second, Faqir realizes that his guru is not accepted by a major Radhasoami group as legitimate. And third, Faqir senses that satsangis are not necessarily biased free seekers after the truth, but may be just as sectarian and prejudiced as other religious zealots. However, the real turning point in Faqir's outlook occurred shortly after World War One when he underwent a remarkable mystical experience--the consequences of which forever changed Faqir's notion of spiritual enlightenment. Faqir recalls: After about three months, the fighting came to an end and the Jawans retired to their barracks. I returned to Bagdad, where there were many satsangis. When they learned of my arrival, they all came together to see me. They made me sit on a raised platform, offered flowers, and worshipped me. It was all very unexpected and a surprising scene for me. I asked them, "Our Guru Maharaj is at Lahore. I am not your Guru. Why do you worship me?" They replied in unison, "On the battle field we were in danger. Death lurked over our heads. You appeared before us in those moments of danger and gave us directions for our safety. We followed your instructions and thus were saved." I was wonder struck by this surprising explanation of theirs. I had no knowledge of their trouble. I, myself, being in danger during those days of combat, had not even remembered them. This incident caused me to question within myself, "Who appeared to them? Was it Faqir Chand?" My faith was strengthened and I concluded, "Whosoever remembers God in whatever form, in that very form He helps His devotee." This gave a new turn to my conception of the Spiritual Master. Henceforth I came to believe that the Master is no separate entity. Rather, He is the disciple's Real Self and resides within. Happy with this conclusion I came to India on annual leave in 1921.
Faqir Chand's experience, though mystically interpreted, was also sociologically profound: man projects his own image of God due to the religious and cultural environment he/she is brought up in. In religious visions, Sikhs see Guru Nanak, not the Virgin Mary; Catholics see Jesus, not the multiple arms of Vishnu; and Hindus see Krishna or other gods/goddesses, but not the angel Gabriel. Because satsangis saw Faqir Chand's radiant form without any conscious manipulation or knowledge on his part, Faqir concluded that religion was radically subjective and, by extension, particularly relativistic. Theoretically, God could assume the form of anybody, provided the devotee engendered enough faith and love for him/her/it. Yet, according to Faqir, almost all religious people are ignorant of this fact, since they tend to believe that their cherished gurus, gods, and holy figures bilocate specially to them. The Social Bedding of Radicalness
At first glance it may appear that Faqir's insight on the nature of religious visions has nothing to do, per se, with his social standing with other Radhasoami groups. However, on closer inspection it becomes clear that Faqir's mystical interpretations of Radhasoami doctrines are consistent with his social standing with other more mainstream Radhasoami centers. Faqir and his guru, almost from the outset, were regarded as outsiders by orthodox Radhasoami satsangis, especially those who paid allegiance to the Central Administrative Council. Thus, Faqir was driven--both by his strict Hindu-Brahmin upbringing and his steadfast devotion to Shiv Brat Lal, a minority guru claimant--to seek an alternative understanding of Radhasoami doctrines. If he did not, Faqir had to then face a crisis of legitimacy, since neither he or his guru had any rightful claim to the legacy of Shiv Dayal Singh, the founder of Radhasoami. Hence, it is not surprising, given Faqir's peculiar social position, that Faqir Chand and his group would develop a heterodoxical (read: opposite) interpretation of Radhasoami from that of the Central Administrative council.
What is not so clearly evident, though, is exactly what kind of interpretation that would turn out to be. In other words, it may be sociologically possible to predict the direction or context of a vying guru's theological viewpoint, but not necessarily the content or substance of his/her philosophy. So, given the formation of the Central Administrative Council and its strict by-laws governing the development of non-Agra satsangs, it is reasonable to assume that fledgling minority candidates must engage in "ideological work" which explains their existence. That is, they must "legitimize" themselves in ways which are contrary to the status quo. Whether or not this is consciously done it is difficult to determine. One thing seems certain, though: if Faqir was the successor of a mainstream, widely accepted, Radhasoami guru in Agra, there would be no overriding reasons--socially or otherwise--for him to break with precedent. Faqir's radical philosophy, in sum, is not so radical when one considers the social context out of which he was operating. [*NOTE: I owe my discussion here to Bennett Berger's development of the term "ideological work" in his book, The Survival of a Counterculture , op. cit. *] Due to his association with Shiv Brat Lal, Faqir was already on the outskirts of conventional Radhasoami and thus was never involved in the institutional policies, property disputes, or doctrinal purification debates, which occurred in Agra. Faqir was for all intents and purposes an outsider, a marginal character in Radhasoami politics--a fact that Faqir realized early on with his run-in with the shopkeeper.
This is not to suggest that Faqir's own mystical revelations did not contribute or drastically inform his heterodoxical views, but that his viewpoint was consistent (not contrary) to his social position in the Radhasoami hierarchy.
Unlike other rival Radhasoami branches (like Dayal Bagh) which attempted to gain legitimacy by contesting successorship or property rights, Shiv Brat Lal and Faqir Chand avoided such disputes and attempted to establish their missions on a different footing--one which took issue with orthodox ideologies. Whereas other fledgling successors and their satsangs avoided doctrinal disputes in general, Faqir Chand attacked the problem head-on. And, in so doing, both ostracized and lionized himself in a way that is to this day unique in Radhasoami. Faqir was ostracized quite simply because he upturned what is perhaps the most cherished idea in Radhasoami orthodox literature: the historical and spiritual uniqueness of Shiv Dayal Singh and his teachings. And Faqir was lionized because he dared to reveal the secrets surrounding miracles and inner visions.
However, Faqir's views have not been accepted by any of the major Radhasoami groups. Indeed, when I interviewed some of the principal leaders of the various Agra, Beas, and Delhi factions of Radhasoami, each of them without exception claimed that Faqir was simply wrong in his interpretations or misguided. [*NOTE: I have discussed Faqir Chand's philosophy with a number of Radhasoami gurus, particularly Darshan Singh, Ajaib Singh, Thakar Singh, and Pir Munga. Field interviews were conducted both in India (1978, 1981, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988) and in the United States (1979, 1983, 1986). *] Thakar Singh, one of the more popular successors to Kirpal Singh, even claimed that Faqir Chand was "crazy" and not to be taken seriously due to his old age.
The Routinization of Heterodoxy:
When Radical Views Become Orthodox
When Dr. I.C. Sharma was appointed Faqir Chand's spiritual successor in Hoshiarpur in 1981, a curious thing happened: Faqir's views became solidified and dogmatized. What was once seen as a novel and alternative interpretation of Radhasoami doctrines soon became accepted as the only correct purview on the nature of enlightenment. Faqir Chand's flexible, relativistic views on spirituality became frozen, so to say, with his death and the clear gaddi nasheen transference which occurred in Hoshiarpur. Since there was no major dispute over whom Faqir Chand had appointed as his heir, and since Faqir's ashram was relatively well established by his death (contrary to Shiv Brat Lal's--Faqir's guru--whose ashram disintegrated), Sharma enjoyed what his two previous predecessors did not: social and legal legitimacy. Hence, Sharma's charismatic control depended, to a large degree, on the continued success of Manavta Mandir as an influential Radhasoami branch.
The differences between Sharma and his predecessors are striking. Neither Shiv Brat Lal or Faqir Chand had access to a residentially empowered gaddi under their jurisdiction which was bequeathed to them by their guru. Hence, they were both socially and philosophically mobile, whereas Sharma, on the other hand, was (and is) constricted by the very nature of his appointment to insure maintenance of a large ashram and a cherished tradition and lineage. Thus, by the very nature of Sharma's appointment charisma finally became routinized in an institutionalized fashion. It is no wonder, therefore, that Sharma's policies contrast starkly with his predecessors', since he was prompted to be more concerned with maintaining and preserving his lineage than with legitimizing it through new doctrinal interpretations.
Sharma's departure with his predecessors is perhaps most graphically illustrated by the way he treats rival successors. Unlike Faqir and Shiv Brat Lal, who never contested succession or engaged in legal battles to determine successorship, Sharma has been quite pronounced in declaring his guru status--even to the point of threatening lawsuits against writers who claim that Faqir Chand appointed other successors besides Sharma. For example, when it was printed in Fate magazine in October of 1984, that Faqir Chand had appointed a number of gurus to carry on his ministry, including a middle-aged woman affectionately known as "Mataji," Sharma and his group claimed that the information was defamatory and inaccurate. Indeed, the secretary of Manavta Mandir, under direct orders of Dr. I.C. Sharma, wrote a letter to the writer alleging that Faqir Chand had only appointed one successor, and that unless the writer retracted his "error" he and the magazine would face a defamation suit. What is most intriguing about Sharma's vigilance in this regard, besides the fact that he was ultimately incorrect in his defense (Faqir Chand had appointed several gurus before his death), is that it so unlike the actions of his predecessors. [*NOTE: Faqir Chand had, in fact, appointed several people during his lifetime to act as gurus, not the least of whom was Yogini Mataji, a middle-aged woman who used to reside at Manavta Mandir. The article which caused the controversy was entitled "The Enchanted Land: With the Saints of North India," Fate Magazine (October 1984). *]
The dramatic change had much to do, as we have seen, with how Sharma assumed control of Manavta Mandir. Moreover, Sharma had to deal with internal politics within the ashram which were causing cliques and in-fighting. Hence, to firmly establish his ministerial base, Sharma had to make it clear who was the chief successor of Faqir Chand, not only to satsangis within India, but to the public at large in North America and England. And Sharma did this even though it ran completely contrary to the spirit of Be-Manism. Such an incongruity, however, did not go by unnoticed and there has been a significant exodus of satsangis from Sharma's camp, particularly long-time satsangis who held positions of power within Faqir's Charitable Library Trust and other related institutions. Prominent administrators and workers in the ashram left when Sharma finally moved from the United States back to India in the early part of 1982 and assumed managerial control of Manavta Mandir--some six months after Faqir Chand's death. [*NOTE: For more information on this controversy see the back issues of the monthly magazine Manav Mandir published by the Faqir Charitable Library Trust (1982-1987). *]
III. BEAS SATSANG:
Paradox/Elective/Partially Open System
The Paradox of Transmission
Perhaps the real reason there are so many different Radhasoami branches today, each with a presiding guru, is that the process of succession was not formally outlined by the founder of Radhasoami. Rather, Shiv Dayal Singh only gave general hints about it, elaborating more about the nature and the necessity of a living guru. A good example of Shiv Dayal Singh's views on the subject of succession comes in a letter written on his behalf by Rai Salig Ram to Sudarshan Singh: "When the Sat Guru of the time departs, He appoints someone as his successor in whom He re-incarnates and thus continues the work of regeneration of Jivas as before." [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Prose (Agra: Soami Bagh, 1958), Bachan 250. *] The problem here, though, is that Shiv Dayal Singh does not elaborate on exactly how the Satguru appoints his successor. It is that very process, which is not given any binding shape in the writings of Shiv Dayal Singh, that led to a major crisis in succession following the death of Radhasoami's founder. That crisis, it should be added, has never been fully resolved in Radhasoami history, and is the major factor behind the tremendous proliferation of satsangs and gurus in the movement. Even Shiv Dayal Singh's last commandments, which appear to indicate that the founder of Radhasoami intended for his wife, Narayan Dei (Radhaji), to succeed him, have not been interpreted the same by his followers. Concerning this succession confusion, Aaron Talsky argues that it stems from a paradoxical tension within Shiv Dayal Singh's very teachings, which allowed for a successorship crisis after his death. Writes Talsky: In the early history of the Radhasoami movement we have before us, then, a complex maze of ambiguous historical evidence which was interpreted in support of a number of reputed gurus, each with his own understanding of the true interpretation of Soamiji's teachings. The unprecedented growth of this sampradaya, side-by-side with an incredible systemic predilection towards bifurcation and schism, is in part due to this [growth] of putative successors, each of whom attracted a sizeable following. . . . [*NOTE: Aaron Talsky, The Radhasoami Tradition: Charismatic Routinization and Its Doctrinal Consequences (Senior Thesis: University of Michigan, 1986), page 60. *]
There can be no question that the teachings of Sant mat and Shiv Dayal Singh, in particular, lend themselves to a wide range of possible personal interpretations. Since the basis of surat shabd yoga necessitates inward practice and attainment, it is consistent with the philosophy that there would be several initiates claiming access to higher regions of awareness. The crucial debate arises when those same gifted meditators allege to be genuine spiritual masters or designated successors. Outside of external verification, it is literally impossible for the Radhasoami initiate to know who, if any, among the emerging claimants are authentic, unless he/she too is enlightened (which, if such were the case, would collapse the utility of this type of discussion).
Jaimal Singh and the Founding of the Beas Satsang
Jaimal Singh (1838-1903) was a devoted follower of Shiv Dayal Singh, having received initiation from the Agra master in 1856 at the age of seventeen. [*NOTE: Kirpal Singh, A Great Saint (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1973); and Daryai Lal Kapur's Heaven On Earth (Beas: R.S. Foundation, 1985). *] Accordingly, Jaimal Singh worked as one of Shiv Dayal Singh's spiritual successors, giving satsang and initiation in the Punjab. In the "History of the Beas Satsang," Spiritual Letters, Jaimal Singh's commission is explained: Baba Jaimal Singh Ji Maharaj was one of the foremost disciples of Swami Ji Maharaj [Shiv Dayal Singh]. Whenever Baba Ji would get any time, He would spend it in the Satsang of Swami Ji Maharaj and His Darshan. In October 1877, when Baba Ji came on leave, Swami Ji Maharaj said to Him: "This is our last meeting. Now I shall go away to Param Dham (Eternal Home), after completing my life's pilgrimage. I have made you my beloved and my own rup (self or form)." Bhai Chanda Singh then requested that Satsang be started in the Punjab. Swami Ji Maharaj replied: "This request has been accepted by Akal Purush, and this task has been allotted to Baba Jaimal Singh." Then Swami Ji Maharaj gave His own turban to Baba Ji as Prashad and ordered Him to go and preach Nam in the Punjab. [*NOTE: Spiritual Letters (Beas: R.S. Foundation, 1976), pages xii-xiii. *]
Further substantiation of Jaimal Singh's succession is given in the same text with references to Shiv Dayal Singh's wife, Radhaji [Narayan Dei], and younger brother, Chachaji [Seth Partap Singh], both of whom reportedly supported Jaimal Singh's ministry. Bibi Rukko used to reside in Agra in the service of Mata Radha Ji. One day, sometime after Swami Ji Maharaji's death, Mata Ji asked Bibi Rukko to return to the Punjab. Bibi Rukko replied that she had no work there and she did not want to give up her Satsang and go to the Punjab. She further suggested that some Sadhu may be sent there, who should preach Swami Ji's Bachans (words or teachings). Mata Ji replied that for Satsang and the spreading of Nam in the Punjab, Swami Ji's orders had already been given. Next morning Mata Ji asked Bibi Rukko to go to the railway station and receive the Satguru who had been appointed by Swami Ji Maharaj for the Punjab. "He is our beloved son, and Swami Ji Maharaj has to take both Swarath and Parmath (worldly and spiritual) work from Him," Mata Ji further said. . . Then Mata Ji reminded Baba Ji that Swami Ji Maharaj had left orders for Him to spread Nam in the Punjab; so now, according to His orders, He should hold Satsang and give Nam. Thereafter, Baba Jaimal Singh Ji came and settled down on the banks of the River Beas, between the villages of Balsarai and Waraich, and started Satsang there. [*NOTE: Ibid., pages xiii-xiv. *]
Seth Partap Singh's support of Jaimal Singh is evident in a series of letters he wrote to both the Beas guru and his eventual successor, Sawan Singh. One excerpt, for instance, reads: "It is my great desire that after Baba Ji [Jaimal Singh] and myself, there should be two or three Saints (Nadipurush) who should spread Radha Swami Mat and Nam Bhakti. . . . " [*NOTE: Ibid., page 137. *]
Although these testimonies from Shiv Dayal Singh's family attesting to Jaimal Singh's succession are undoubtedly provided by the Beas Satsang as external verification for their particular branch, it would be misleading to just cite outward evidence for Jaimal Singh when so much emphasis is placed in Radhasoami on internal, spiritual achievement. What makes a saint is not simply the exterior rituals associated with dastarbandi (formal succession), but rather his inner attainment. Specifically, what region has he reached? Is he selfless? What was his relationship with his guru?
In the case of Jaimal Singh, the Beas Satsang points to his life-long dedication to meditation, pure moral life (he was celibate his entire life), and strict obedience to his master. As Kirpal Singh illustrates in his biography of Jaimal Singh, A Great Saint: The light army duties left Jaimal Singh ample time for meditation. If he had no night duty, he would get up at 2 a.m., bathe, and sit down for meditation. During the day, as soon as the parade and other normal duties were over, he would engage himself in like manner or hasten to the home of Swami Ji. He was known for not wasting a single moment on pastimes popular among his fellow soldiers. He visited Punni Gali with great regularity, and often acted there as Swami Ji's pathi or reciter. . . [*NOTE: Kirpal Singh, A Great Saint , op. cit., page 43. *]
Thus, we can see that there are both internal and external stories about Jaimal Singh's authenticity as a spiritual successor to Shiv Dayal Singh. This is not to say, of course, that such testimony is accepted as legitimate evidence by other Radhasoami factions, but only that Jaimal Singh's followers (direct or secondary) do invoke a variety of accounts to buttress their guru's succession. Below are the four major forms of verification provided: 1. Verbal confirmation by the departing master, Shiv Dayal Singh, to Jaimal Singh. 2. Verbal confirmation by the departing master, Shiv Dayal Singh, to other satsangis, including his wife, Narayan Dei, and his brother, Seth Partap Singh. 3. Personal artifacts of Shiv Dayal Singh bequeathed to Jaimal Singh, such as a turban and a aasan (prayer mat). 4. Assorted narratives by satsangis and other interested parties about the merits of Jaimal Singh, including accounts of inner experiences and special social interactions.
The above is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide a general outline to the kinds of evidence provided on behalf of Jaimal Singh. As we will see, how this information is used and interpreted by various factions depends upon the specific time period and circumstance.
For example, in the two decades following Soamiji's death, Jaimal Singh did not attract the majority of his guru's disciples to his side. Rather, he limited his activities to the Punjab, and even there mostly attracted a new following, just as Shiv Dayal Singh himself had done in Agra. Hence, Jaimal Singh was not involved in competing with other guru claimants in Agra (Rai Salig Ram, Sanmukh Das, Partap Singh, et al.), as his entire ministry was focused in a region where almost nobody had even heard of Shiv Dayal Singh or Radhasoami. There is almost no mention of Jaimal Singh in any of the written records or books in those days.
Jaimal Singh's ministry appears to have met with little, if no, opposition for over twenty years after Shiv Dayal Singh's death. This was due to a number of factors, not the least of which were the smallness of his sangat, the remoteness of his ashram, and the limited scope of his satsang activities. It was not until the founding of the Central Administrative Council in 1902 in Agra, under the prompting hand of Brahm Shankar Misra, that Jaimal Singh's guruship came under harsh criticism. The Council, an indissoluble body whose purpose was to unite all the different factions into a unified whole, objected to Jaimal Singh's lack of cooperation with their policies. Although Jaimal Singh had close connections with the Agra satsangs (Partap Singh was particularly fond of him, as was Radhaji), he did not agree with the formation of the Central Administrative Council. In a letter to his closest disciple and successor, Sawan Singh, Jaimal Singh explains his reasons against the organization: Chacha Ji (Shiv Dayal Singh's brother) desires that we should all cooperate with the Agra Committee. Although I have given my formal consent, it is not possible for me to agree with the committee because the "updesh" (initiation) of. . . (name deleted; it is Brahm Shankar Misra) is not in accordance with Swami Ji's "updesh". . . On account of this, I cannot agree with the committee. . . If they are prepared to satisfy my three conditions, I shall fully co-operate with them. The three conditions are: 1) The "updesh", namely the system and method of Initiation and Bhajan, should be the same as practiced and taught by Swami Ji Maharaj and not as (name deleted; it is Brahm Shankar Misra). 2) We should have the option of nominating three members from the Beas Satsang, but you and I should not become members. We shall select our own members. 3) Offerings will not be solicited from our Satsangis, because they are all poor and we do not wish to take anything from them. Here we give "updesh" (Initiation) only for Bhajan and Simran. [*NOTE: Ibid., page 104. *]
Jaimal Singh's eventual break with the C.A.C. over principles demonstrates his adamancy in not accepting Agra's interpretation of succession via Rai Salig Ram and Brahm Shankar Misra. Because he would not give the names of his satsangis to the Council, his "official" permission to initiate new seekers--which was granted by the Council to police the activities of all Radhasoami related gurus--was revoked. The break between the Council and the Beas satsang has never been mended.
Jaimal Singh's position in relation to the Agra satsangs raises an important issue in the politics of guru successorship: how does one know if a guru/successor is authentic? Should the evidence be outward signs, inner experiences, or a combination of both? We know that in Jaimal Singh's case, he did not have the outward evidences that Rai Salig Ram, Radhaji, and Partap Singh possessed, all of whom resided in Agra. Jaimal Singh even lacked written confirmation of his role, as he was was not mentioned once in the last utterances of Shiv Dayal Singh. Yet, none of these factors significantly interfered with Jaimal Singh's work since he did not contest the gaddi at Agra; nor, did he allege that he was Shiv Dayal Singh's sole successor. Unlike other minority guru claimants, Jaimal Singh had several things working in his favor: good relations with the "Holy Family" (Jaimal Singh almost always deferred to Radhaji and Partap Singh); general acknowledgement from the Agra sangat that he was appointed to conduct satsang and grant initiation in the Punjab by his guru; and, finally, a growing reputation as a steadfast meditator.
Although he lacked the overwhelming outward evidence to make him Shiv Dayal Singh's chief successor (Rai Salig Ram eventually assumed that role), Jaimal Singh did not have to resort to legitimizing his role in Agra because his function did not conflict with the rival claims of other Shiv Dayal Singh disciples. [*NOTE: A good illustration of this is that Jaimal Singh had a small room built at Soami Bagh, where he periodically stayed years after the death of his guru. Sawan Singh, who helped pay for the construction, also stayed in the same room years later when he visited Agra. It should be noted that this is a fairly uncommon practice when there has been a major dispute over succession. For instance, Kirpal Singh never visited Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, the ashram of Sawan Singh, after his guru's death in 1948. The Beas gurus willingness to stay in Soami Bagh supports my contention that Jaimal Singh did not contest the gaddi at Agra. *] In the politics of guru successorship, it is important to note that "ideological battle" does not commence or develop unless there is an a priori contest over something, be it property, status, followers, or doctrinal interpretation. Jaimal Singh apparently didn't contest anything, except perhaps theology and spiritual techniques, until he was prompted to by the Central Administrative Council in 1902, some twenty-five years after his guru's death.
The Social Context of Jaimal Singh's Theology
Jaimal Singh was only a teenager when he met his master, Shiv Dayal Singh, in Agra in 1856. He had travelled throughout the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh for almost five years in quest of a guru conversant in the path of surat shabd yoga. Thus, it was with great joy when Jaimal finally heard about Shiv Dayal Singh and his teachings from an old sage in Rishikesh. However, two things immediately bothered Jaimal about his would-be master: he was not a Sikh and he smoked a huqqa (a tobacco water pipe). [*NOTE: Jaimal Singh may also have been bothered by his guru partaking of pan (betel leaf), which is a mild stimulant. *] Although Shiv Dayal Singh qualified as a spiritual master, Jaimal's social upbringing was such that it was quite difficult for him to accept a guru who went against his religious background. Indeed, it was only after Shiv Dayal Singh demonstrated his mystical knowledge that Jaimal Singh resolved the discrepancy and fully accepted him as his teacher. [*NOTE: There are several accounts about Jaimal Singh's initial doubts concerning Shiv Dayal Singh, especially on the issue of him not being a Sikh. See Spiritual Letters and A Great Saint: Baba Jaimal Singh--His Life & Teachings in particular. As Daryai Lal Kapur in Heaven on Earth (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1986) writes: "He knew he wanted initiation from this great Mystic but found himself hesitating because Soami Ji was not a Sikh. He could not resolve whether it was proper for him to accept a non-Sikh as his Master, despite his conviction that Soami Ji was the one who could give him the key to true spiritual knowledge. For four days he remained in this dilemma. One day, while Baba Ji was lost in these thoughts, Soami Ji came to him and gently inquired whether he had yet decided the question of Sikh and non-Sikh. As Baba Ji had spoken to no one about his conflict, Soami Ji's loving words moved him profoundly and tears filled his eyes. . . The next day Baba Jaimal Singh received initiation, and for two days and nights remained absorbed in meditation in a small room in Soami Ji's house." (Pages 13-14.) *]
This initial hesitancy on Jaimal's part should not be overlooked, for it provides us with a clue to how and why Jaimal Singh's theological outlook was fundamentally different from Rai Salig Ram's, even though both were initiates of the same master. For Jaimal Singh, almost from the outset, connected Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings with the underlying spiritual message of the Guru Granth Sahib , the holy book of the Sikhs and the guiding text of Jaimal's early spiritual quest. By his own testimony, Jaimal was not looking for a new path, but an old and apparently forgotten one. Thus, Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings were more of a confirmation than a revelation for the young Jaimal.
Although Jaimal Singh's Sikh heritage undoubtedly played a major part in shaping his interpretations of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings, it should not be overestimated since a number of dependent factors came into play. Of these contingent social factors, the following three appear to be central: 1) Shiv Dayal Singh's theology as an independent variable; 2) Sikh-Sant mat connection; 3) geographical location.
Radhasoami as Sant Mat
Jaimal Singh's theology, like Rai Salig Ram's, appears to have much of its basis in the teachings and writings of Shiv Dayal Singh. Unlike Rai Salig Ram, though, Jaimal Singh did not find his guru's teachings advocating a new and exclusive religion. Rather, Jaimal Singh saw a continuous and consistent link between the saints of old, like Kabir, Nanak, and Dadu, and his present guru at Agra. Shiv Dayal Singh also saw the same link, as evidenced in Sar Bachan Radhasoami Bartik where he writes: Observing this sorry state of affairs of the present times, Sants were moved to pity. Although there were very few real seekers and spiritually minded, yet out of sheer grace and mercy, they gave out the secrets of the highest regions, through discourses and writings. . . . The names of some of the perfect and true Sants, Sadhs, and Faqirs who manifested themselves during the last seven hundred years are Kabir Saheb, Tulsi Saheb, Jagijiwan Saheb, Garib Das, Paltu Saheb, Guru Nanak. . . A persual of their writings would give an idea of their spiritual attainments. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami Prose, translated by S.D. Maheshwari (Soami Bagh: Radhasoami Satsang, 1958), pages 42-43. *]
Hence for Jaimal his guru represented a living manifestation of his ancestors' religion. In terms of Sikhism, Shiv Dayal Singh was like Guru Nanak come alive again, albeit within a different cultural mileu. In contrast, Rai Salig Ram did not perceive Shiv Dayal Singh as the recurring manifestation of something traditional but of something radically new--historically and spiritually. Although Jaimal Singh undoubtedly held his guru in the highest regard (as one with the Supreme Being), he did not differentiate his teacher's mission from the Sants of old. And it is precisely here that the key difference between Salig Ram and Jaimal Singh emerges.
Jaimal's Relationship with the Holy Family
Jaimal Singh's views were also influenced to some degree by his close relations with Shiv Dayal Singh's family, who supported Jaimal Singh and his ministry. Without their encouragement, particularly Seth Partap Singh's, it would have been exceedingly difficult for Jaimal Singh to break with the Central Administrative Council over a doctrinal dispute. However, since Partap Singh apparently sided with Jaimal Singh on theological matters, if not organizational ones, it allowed Jaimal and his sangat the opportunity to run their satsang outside of the C.A.C.'s legislative jurisdiction. A bold move, no doubt, for the young satsang, but one that would eventually turn out to be to their benefit politically.
Jaimal's association with Shiv Dayal Singh's family also proved to be a key legitimizing factor later on, since the Beas satsang could point to Seth Partap Singh's obvious patronship of them as validation of their development. Sawan Singh, for instance, went to Seth Partap Singh after Jaimal's death to receive consolation, only to be told that he had to work as a guru. Sawan Singh recollects: When I appeared before Chacha Ji Maharaj (Seth Pratap [Partap] Singh Ji Maharaj), he enquired who was working at Beas in place of Bhai Sahib (Baba Ji Maharaj) and who had been instructed to initiate after Him. My companions replied, "Baba Ji Maharaj has appointed Him, but He does not give Initiation." "Why?" Chacha Ji Maharaj enquired. At this, I submitted that I did not possess sufficient power, and said to Chacha Ji Maharaj, "You better send some Sadhu from here who should initiate people." Chacha Ji Maharaj replied, "You will have to give Nam (initiate). I hold myself responsible. Swami Ji Maharaj will be responsible." [*NOTE: Rai Sahib Munshi Ram, With The Three Masters , Volume 2 (Beas: Radhasoami Satsang Beas, 1974), page 226. *]
Jaimal Singh's theology was also influenced to some degree by his geographical surroundings. Since Jaimal centered most of his mission in the Punjab, far away from the political and doctrinal in-fighting going on in Agra, he was able to develop his views without interference from rival successors. He also did not receive any major monetary support from Agra (although Seth Partap Singh and his sons used to send small amounts of money from time to time) because most of his initiates were from outlying villages like Ghuman and Gurdaspur. This relative solitude undoubtedly contributed greatly to Jaimal Singh's ministry because he was mostly concerned with attracting new initiates, not converting old satsangis to his fold. As Aaron Talsky notes: Jaimal Singh, on the other hand, was sent to preach in the Punjab. In an era before mass communication and transportation, we can presume that this institutional or tradition-derived authority--that is, recognition by the Agra satsangis--was of negligible importance to his potential followers in the Punjab. Precisely because of the absence of this potential foundation, however, Baba Ji and his followers did not have to concern themselves with the sanction (or absence of such) of those same satsangis. By the same token, it was necessary for Jaimal to attract followers through his own charisma--in this sense, we can assert that Jaimal Singh, for the Beas upa-paramparas , was a sort of second exemplar. The affirmation of his disciples was premised primarily upon their perception of their guru as a satguru , rather than a successor. [*NOTE: Aaron Talsky, The Radhasoami Tradition (University of Michigan: Senior Thesis, 1986), page 112. *]
The Strained Relationship Between Agra and Beas
Almost from the outset of his ministry, but most dramatically after the formation of the Central Administrative Council in 1902, Jaimal Singh had a strained relationship with Agra. This tentative fellowship with Agra has been the basis, I would suggest, for much of Beas' seemingly paradoxical theology. For it is historically quite evident that Jaimal Singh was not regarded as the chief successor of Shiv Dayal Singh. His following was nowhere near that of Rai Salig Ram, nor did he inherit any of his guru's property. Although Jaimal Singh was not simply a break-away candidate--he did enjoy the backing of Shiv Dayal Singh's family--it must be recognized that his ministry is significantly different from other fledgling successors in Agra. From its commencement, the Beas satsang has had only minor links with Agra--links which would be later severely damaged by the formation of the C.A.C.
It is little wonder, therefore, that Beas does not subscribe to the unbending orthodoxy of the C.A.C., since if it did it would undermine its own legitimacy. But let us not go too far. Because despite Beas' disconnection with the C.A.C., it still did not try to disavow its Agra origins. The reason for this is fairly obvious: Jaimal Singh and Sawan Singh, notwithstanding their severance from Agra's orthodox elite, remained on good terms with Shiv Dayal Singh's immediate family--so much so that they even built an apartment inside of Soami Bagh for their personal use. In his thesis, The Radhasoami Tradition , Aaron Talsky elaborates on why Beas retained cordial relations with the Agra satsangs: The relationships Jaimal Singh had with the other gurus who emerged after Shiv Dayal's death, it has already been noted, are contentious issues. More than this, however, the Beas group itself seems to adhere to very vague beliefs as is evidenced by the conflicting information provided in their own literature. In contrast with Soami Bagh, then, there is a much more preliminary epistemological difficulty encountered when one attempts to simply cognize precisely how this group assumes that Baba Ji perceived those contemporaries who were also reputed to be successors to the gaddi; the only apparent consensus which we can easily delineate is the contention that Jaimal Singh retained very cordial relations with all of them. . . . Thus, other reputed gurus may also be considered true and perfect successors: there is no reason to deny the validity of another lineage, as the existence of other paramparas neither substantiates nor precludes the authenticity of one's own, unless, of course, these other lineages by deed or doctrine deny your validity, in which case one must demonstrate the inaccuracy of the competing claims. [*NOTE: The Radhasoami Tradition , op. cit., pages 100-101. *]
Selecting Truth: The Origins of Beas' Theology
The "elective" or "selective" nature of Beas' theology is directly connected to its founder's discriminating interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings. For instance, when Jaimal Singh republished Sar Bachan at Beas, he edited portions of the volume which were not in keeping with his understanding of Shiv Dayal Singh's instructions. Although Beas has since received heavy criticism for altering bachan 250 and deleting references to smoking huqqa, such editing clearly demonstrates Jaimal Singh's distinctive interpretation of Radhasoami. It also partially explains why later gurus at Beas were not historically bound to a literalistic interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings. As Radha Krishna Khanna explains: Baba Jaimal Singhji was convinced of the error and therefore, [sic] replaced Bachan 250 by one that is wholly in accord with the rest of Soamiji's many statements on the subject. The error might have escaped the eye of others, but it did not escape the eye of one well-versed in Soamiji's spiritual message and knowing that it did violence to it not only as taught by Soamiji, but also as taught by all the other past sants. He therefore had it altered when publishing the volume at Beas, and informed Chacha Pratap Singh who raised no objection. . . Is it a mere accident that he should have chosen to alter only that one Bachan which in all the collection jars with the harmony of the other Bachans? If ever any proof of his full mastery of the science taught by Soamiji was needed, the example of this change would be enough, for it rescues it by a single stroke from the irreconcilable [sic] contradictions and confusion that must have been introduced by a satsangi's misconstruction of Soamiji's words and meaning. [*NOTE: Radha Krishna Khanna, Truth Eternal (New Delhi: Privately published, 1961), pages 74-75. *]
Moreover, since Jaimal Singh did not inherit his guru's gaddi, he was not bound by the traditions started at Agra. Because his followers were mostly Sikh and had no formal connection with the Radhasoami groups at Peepal Mandi or Soami Bagh, it enabled Jaimal Singh to emphasize those aspects of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings which tallied with Sant mat and Sikhism, and downplay the sectarian or incarnational aspects which were sure to cause controversy and misunderstanding. Jaimal Singh's traditional and geographic freedom was undoubtedly instrumental in allowing him to delete references in Sar Bachan Radhasoami Chhand-Band which would anger his mostly Sikh sangat, especially references which clearly showed that Shiv Dayal Singh smoked tobacco--a serious moral offense to orthodox Sikhs. If Jaimal Singh had centered his mission in Agra, where the majority of the population is comprised of Hindus (many of whom enjoy smoking and partaking of pan), there would have been no need for him to edit Shiv Dayal Singh's use of the term huqqa.
Therefore, almost from the beginning of Jaimal Singh's ministry, we can see a diplomatic tendency which is concerned with not offending religious sensibilities--including both the orthodox Radhasoamis and the orthodox Sikhs. This diplomatic sensibility has continued to persist at Beas. All three gurus after Jaimal Singh--Sawan Singh, Jagat Singh, Charan Singh--have remained on fairly good terms with Soami Bagh and Dayal Bagh, and have also maintained cordial relations with their Sikh neighbors. [*NOTE: Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the Beas satsang has had its share of difficulties with orthodox Sikhs who have from time to time criticized Radhasoami as an affront to the religious heritage of Guru Nanak. Mark Juergensmeyer, Dean of International Studies at the University of Hawaii, has written an excellent article on the Radhasoami-Sikh relationship, which goes into detail about the history of Beas' connection with Sikhism. See Joseph O'Connell's Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century (University of Toronto: Centre for South Asian Studies, 1988). *] For instance, Sawan Singh even signed a pact with Anand Sarup, leader of the Dayal Bagh satsang, in the early 1930's which expressed the desire for unity and friendship between the two groups, even though they have divergent opinions over the nature of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings. The late leader at Beas, Charan Singh, had also kept friendly contacts with Dayal Bagh, having visited the current head, Dr. Lal Sahab, in Agra in 1978.
However, to fully understand Beas' theology, and how it in turn influenced Kirpal Singh, it is necessary to explore in detail the succession history after Jaimal Singh's death. For by framing our analysis within the narrow purview of the Beas parampara, we will be better able to identify those social circumstances which helped shape the origins of Dera's biggest offshoot and competitor, Ruhani Satsang.
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